De-coding Poor Margin & Profitability: The Dreaded Ops Black Hole

De-coding Poor Margin & Profitability: The Dreaded Ops Black Hole

The root-cause to declining margins & profitability lies in the deep, dark, spreadsheet-laden abyss of your project financials & resourcing…  “The Operations black hole”. A place where hard-won project dollars shall never, ever, return from… and high-flying consulting space-ships can disappear forever.

Most professional service firms don’t even know the black hole exists. Occasionally they spot it in their rear-view mirror, months after engagements are finished, and in the distance they faintly spot all the $margin they’d expected to make, vaporized by scope-creep, over-delivery & poor pricing.

The gut-reaction is to blame the three main protagonists…

    1. It’s the clients fault – they always push for more, get our team on the back-foot & drag out a project. Problem is – if you’d spotted all of that earlier, you could’ve stopped it… or better still, $charged them!
    2. Or is it the delivery teams fault… I mean, where have all those budgeted hours gone? What side-of-desk extras weren’t subject to a change order? If time was tracked & utilization monitored – you’d have no surprises.
    3. So it must be sales? They over-promise, knock down the price to get the deal… that’s why there’s never any margin left… and they get all the commission & bonuses! Sorry to burst the last bubble, but if you need a standardized offering, based on proven previous project profitability (I wanted to add “productization”, but 4 P’s is enough (just ask E. Jerome. McCarthy)).

So none of them are to blame… and you can’t really point fingers at the resourcing team either, because they’re trying to construct your space-ship, designed to navigate the “operations black hole”, out of plastic, sticky tape & glue… I’m not an intergalactic engineer, but even I know you’ve got to have the right tools, in the hands of the right people, if you want a job done right.

So how do you navigate the Ops black hole?

    1. Get people to accurately track their billable time, at least at client AND project level. Bonus insights coming your way if they track to deliverable & non-billable time too.
    2. Use the time captured data, to start analyzing live projects against their existing budget… and tightly manage any potential scope-creep & over-delivery in real-time. This will surface some scary results. Scary good, scary bad – part of the process!
    3. As you now start to build a bank of delivered projects, start to review which of those generated the highest $gross margin. Look at your charge out & cost rates too.
    4. Analyze the same projects & client work, but with your $cash flow hat on… which enables you to best manage your WIP, speed up billing & cash collection?
    5. Build increasingly repeatable propositions & all new proposals around the best-performing projects. You’ll have solid pricing, billing & resourcing profiles by now. 
    6. When sales say they need prices dropped on future opportunities, get them to evidence from past client work, their proposal delivers the $margin you need.
    7. When delivery say they need more time or people, get them to do similar!
    8. Repeat steps 1-7, improving your process incrementally.

Successfully positioning, incentivizing & motivating people to execute on this plan, will enable you to course-correct from impending ops-black-hole doom, to a spaceship back on-track, with a crew all aligned too. Here’s to killer $margins & profitability for 2024 & beyond. Continued success! 

Interested in exploring these concepts further? I’m just a click away—let’s connect!

Selling with Content Before the Sale

Selling with Content Before the Sale

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The ultimate scale activity for a founder is when you produce top-notch content and know how to distribute it.

In this video, we’ll uncover how to master inbound content marketing. We’ll also reveal 3 reasons why you should care about content delivery, specific tactics for books, podcasts, and blogs, plus common mistakes to avoid.

In this video, you’ll learn:
– The difference between selling products vs selling services
– The impact of transforming work environments on referrals
– How to position your content to sell more services

Master the Art of Forecasting Revenue, Profit, and Headcount in Your Boutique Service Firm: A Strategic Guide

Master the Art of Forecasting Revenue, Profit, and Headcount in Your Boutique Service Firm: A Strategic Guide

Ever wondered how to create a bulletproof forecast for your revenue, profit, and staffing needs in your professional service firm? It’s a critical task that can make or break your business growth, sale potential, and overall scalability. In the world of boutique firms, precision is everything. This post presents a hands-on guide to nailing these forecasts, with steps tailored to different scenarios: quarterly, annually, and multi-year.

Here is a guide to forecast revenue, profit, and headcount. 

Forecasting Revenue:

    1. Data Roundup: Your past can predict your future. Collate your historical revenue data, zeroing in on overall revenue and specific client or project revenue. For example: in 2020 the firm did $8 million, in 2021 $9 million and in 2022 $10 million.
    2. Identifying Revenue Influencers: What moves the needle in your firm? Client contracts, project pipelines, retention rates, market demand, and pricing strategies can all be key players. For example, in 2022 client #1 extended the contract by six months, but in 2023 the contract ended. 

    3. Reading Market Signals: Stay attuned to market conditions and trends. Wallet share, macro-economic indicators, and emerging opportunities can impact your revenue significantly. For example, the share of wallet inside your top 10 clients is 80% but you just invested in sales so new client acquisition should be up. 

    4. Revenue Modeling: Shape your data into something that speaks. Use techniques like trend analysis, regression analysis, or time series forecasting. For example, descriptive analytics describes what happened, diagnostic analytics tells you why it happened, predictive analytics will tell you what is about to happen, and prescriptive analytics tells you what to do to alter the future outcome. 

    5. Testing Your Assumptions: No forecast is complete without a sanity check. Engage your team, peers, mentors, and Collective 54 members to validate your assumptions. Pro tip: bounce your forecasts by your Collective 54 Leadership Board.

    6. Risk Assessment: Risk is a reality. Consider potential challenges like win rates, project delays, or employee turnover in your revenue forecast. For example, you are running at 100% utilization and time to fill an open req is 90 days.

    7. Refining Your Forecast: Stay nimble. Adjust your forecast to accommodate seasonality, cyclical patterns, or one-time events, and keep updating it as new information emerges. For example, the week between Christmas and New Years is dead.

Profit Forecasting:

    1. Counting the Cost: Your services come at a price. Calculate both direct and indirect costs associated with service delivery. For example, $20,000 to acquire a new client, ~20% of project fees go to cost to serve, 10% of firm revenue on overhead etc.
    2. The Drivers Behind Costs: Identify what’s causing your costs. The relationship between revenue growth, costs, and scaling can reveal a lot about your firm’s efficiencies. For example, the leverage ratio of senior to junior staff’s impact on labor costs. More seniors and less profit.

    3. Crafting Profit Models: Subtract your projected costs from revenue forecasts to build profit models, track profitability trends over time. For example, Collective 54’s benchmark data says best-in-class margins are 80% gross margin, and 50% EBITDA margin. How does your forecast stack up? 

    4. Sensitivity Analysis: Revenues and costs can change. So, how will this affect your profit? Test the waters with sensitivity analysis. For example, margins from your ideal clients are 65% but from non-ideal clients is 35%, and yet half your clients are outside your ideal client profile. What would happen to the profit forecast if you stopped selling shitty work?

    5. Financial Goals Alignment: Your profit forecast should match your financial ambitions. Pro tip: see what your firm is worth by using Collective 54’s Firm Estimator tool here.

Headcount Forecasting:

    1. Productivity Ratio Analysis: Profit and headcount are closely tied. Compute productivity ratios to better understand this relationship. For example, revenue per head in 2022 was $400k. 

    2. Staffing Need Assessment: Identify your staffing requirements based on projected revenue growth. For example, with 20% revenue growth, we need 4 juniors for every senior to keep our leverage ratio at 4:1. 

    3. Turnover Rate Consideration: Employee attrition can be a pain point. Use historical turnover rates to estimate future staff changes. For example, your historical turnover rate is 15% per 100 employees so to stay headcount neutral you need to recruit 15 people per year.

    4. Hiring Plan Development: Align your hiring plans with your revenue and profit forecasts. For example, you need 75% of the headcount expansion in the first half of the year if you are to hit the full year revenue goals.

    5. Monitoring and Adjustment: Always keep an eye on your actual headcount and adjust hiring plans when necessary. For example, revenue is softer than expected so reduce the hiring plan by x%.

Time Horizons and Their Impact on Forecasting

The forecasting processes outlined above may vary based on the time horizon involved.

    • Quarterly forecasts: Focus on short-term revenue and profit projections, considering specific sales pipelines, ongoing projects, and immediate market conditions. Headcount forecasts should align with the short-term workload. 

    • Annual forecasts: Incorporate a broader view of the market and consider long-term trends. Revenue and profit forecasts should account for annual cycles, market fluctuations, and strategic initiatives. Headcount forecasts should align with the anticipated workload for the year. 

    • Multi-year forecasts: Consider long-term market trends, industry developments, and strategic goals. Revenue and profit forecasts should reflect growth objectives, market expansion plans, and potential risks. Headcount forecasts should align with the long-term growth trajectory and strategic initiatives.


For any boutique professional service firm, forecasting revenue, profit, and headcount can be a make-or-break endeavor. With the above guide and by regularly updating your forecasts, you can make strides towards your wealth, income, and workload goals. Start your forecasting journey today and steer your firm towards continuous growth and prosperity.

Should You Give Employees Equity?

Should You Give Employees Equity?

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Equity splits are the number one cause of business divorces and can cost you millions. So how do you ensure you not only get it right the first time but keep it right as your business evolves?

This week’s video lays the groundwork for it all. Join us to hear about the reasons you should care about equity in the first place, mistakes to avoid, criteria for signing equity, and when to make adjustments.

In this video, we also cover:

    • Six criteria for signing on equity
    • Dynamic equity splits vs static equity splits
    • What dead equity is and how to get rid of it
    • Why 50/50 splits almost never work
    • When to divide up equity

The 9 Revenue Sources for Pro Serve Firms: How Many Are You Using?

The 9 Revenue Sources for Pro Serve Firms: How Many Are You Using?

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The 9 Revenue Sources for Pro Serve Firms: How Many Are You Using?

Discover the 9 common revenue sources for a successful professional services firm. Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of each and how you may be able to realize more revenue this year by diversifying or strengthening how your firm makes money.   

In this week’s video, Greg shares:

    • The 9 Sources of revenue in the professional services business model
    • Pros and cons of each, plus additional things to think about
    • How to identify which revenue sources are best for your pro serve firm